The moment I realised conversations with my teen son about consent had been worthwhile

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

Let's face it. Speaking to children about sex isn't exactly fun - and speaking to teenage boys about sex is positively awkward.

It's hard to know if we as parents ever get it right, which is why my husband and I were quietly pleased recently to learn that our efforts to teach our son about one of the most important topics facing today's youth - that of consent - was paying off.

In our home, while we were happy to leave the majority of sex education up to schools and school-based education programs delivered by experts, consent is one topic where I have taken the lead during conversations with our son.

While many of the conversations were sparked after discussions at school, others were instigated by me, often as a result of stories in the media.

The first of these conversations occurred a few years ago. My son would have been 13 at the time, and my husband, who was seated with us at the dinner table, was momentarily shocked at the conversation, believing he was too young for such frank discussions about sexual assault.

Over the years and age-appropriately, I have built on this discussion.

We have replaced the old mantra of 'No means no', to 'No means no, but only yes means yes'. 

He knows a 'yes', followed by a 'no', is 'no'. Not being sure is also 'no'. 

He knows drugs and alcohol can loosen inhibitions, or worse, make someone incapable of consent. Again a 'no'.


He knows that someone can say 'yes' to something but at any time, they can change their mind. Also 'no'.

But while these conversations aim to protect the females he will encounter during his life, my aim is to protect him as well.

The view that someone would make up an accusation of sexual assault is a common enough opinion to warrant discussion.

If someone says 'yes' but seems too nervous or unsure of a decision that she may say later she was coerced, I have told my son this is a flashing warning not to proceed.

When my son asked once how a jury could know for certain if a woman was telling the truth, I was honest. We don't.

"How do you protect yourself from someone saying they didn't want to be there?" I asked. 

He thought about this for a while and said, "Don't say you're going somewhere then go somewhere else. If you said you were going to a club, go to a club."

These conversations have never been easy, and at times, downright uncomfortable. Often I wondered how I could truly know if the message was getting through.

Then late last year, after my son had been at a post year 10 formal party the night before, he was catching me up on what had happened. 

He mentioned a girl had at one point leaned in as if waiting for a kiss, but he had not kissed her.

"Don't you like her?" I asked.

"Yeah, I like her," he replied.

"So why didn't you kiss her?"

"Because she was really drunk and it wouldn't be right."

I do not profess this means that I have done my job, or that I can take a break from continuing to teach my son about consent.

What I do know, is that at that moment, I felt we were at least on the right track.